Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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7
H E L L E R ---- THE BOOK----- GOD’S BLUEPRINT
lected and deposited in the attic of the Synagogue, with a tender-
ness that a mother displays to an infirm child. When their mul-
tiplication taxes the available space, they are taken and buried
with a ceremony and solemnity that is given to sages and heroes
who served God and man.
All faiths were disposed to burn books which they stigmatized
as heretical. The Dominican Monks assumed for themselves
this assignment and termed it a holy task. The Jew shuddered
about the thought of books, any books, being set to devouring
flames. Zealous as he was for preserving the integrity of his
faith, the worst punishment he could devise for heretical volumes
was to brand them as Seforim Hitsonim, Apocryphal or Outside
Books. These were to be kept in isolation and even hidden but
not to be destroyed by acts of incendiarism.
The most shameless act of the Nazis was their consignment
to flames of heaps of'books of noble and revered authors. The
failure of leaders of governments and heads of cultural institutions
all over the world to perceive in this outburst of barbarism a
tendency which was the antithesis to all that civilization stood
for and which inevitably was bound to end in a titanic struggle,
besides which all previous conflicts would seem mere skirmishes,
and their failure then and there to terminate all relationships
with such vandals — is a sin of myopia or moral apathy for which
they and we are now making due expiation.
When the Roman tyrant ordered that the rabbi, who refused
to abstain from the study of sacred lore as his decree prescribed,
should be wrapped with the parchment of the Holy Scroll and
be burnt, legend tells us that as the flames scorched his body,
his soul was seen ascending, and as the flames consumed the
parchment, the letters too became alive and winged their way
toward heaven, where in the presence of the Divine Throne their
vigor and strength were renewed. The tyrant is now dust and well-
nigh forgotten. The spirit of the martyred rabbi and the words
of the Scroll which he thought he destroyed continue to march on.
To the Jew the book was an impregnable fort, an insurmount-
able citadel which shielded him against all attacks. The Psalmist
uttered a profound truth when in thankful appreciation of the
saving quality of the book he cried out: “Had not Thy Torah
been my delight then I would have perished in my affliction.”
VII
Now this reverence of the Book was a characteristic of the
Jew of olden days. Our problem is to induce him to continue in
that tradition. That this anxiety is not without basis is evidenced